Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
The ride up from the ground floor to the penthouse in the private elevator seemed to take an eternity. The music from the ballroom faded away, thankfully, replaced by the soft whisper of motors and gears as the glass box tore up at gut wrenching speeds to the highest floor. One hand clutching a garish statue, his other went to loosen the too-tight tie around his neck.
David Xanatos had very little use for charity functions of any sort, but his public relations manager, newly hired, insisted that he attend as many as possible. One would think giving away what normal people would consider a small fortune to support this cause or the other would be enough, but apparently, that was not the case. No, he had to spend the better part of his evening smiling until his face hurt, shaking hands with people not important enough for him to remember their names, and making inane speeches about the future and what a wonderful place they were all making it.
A show, a farce, a comedy of errors - none of it meant anything and everybody in that room knew it. The public might be fooled, but David Xanatos made most of his fortune on the ignorance of the public, so he couldn't fault them that. Giving money away was an easy way to make the public happy and David had more than enough to spare. He only wished giving that money away didn't involve him having to travel halfway across the country to accept a Good Samaritan award when he could barely remember the name of the organization giving it to him.
At long last, the doors to the elevator pinged open, leading straight into his private suite. A gentleman to a fault when in public, David kicked off his shoes, untucked his shirt, and scratched his back irritably with the ugly statue they'd given him. Was that an angel or a chicken on top? He had no idea. Shrugging at it, he threw it haphazardly across the room, where it landed on the king-sized bed with a tiny bounce.
No, he reflected as he sprawled out on the duvet next to the bar, he had very little use for functions like this, wouldn't have bothered with it a handful of years ago. Things had changed though. No more scheming to take over the world, or at least a sizable part of it, no more running around in robotic armor fighting the gargoyles across the rooftops of Manhattan, and, hopefully, no more bothersome visits by in-laws who could grow a hundred times their size and put the entire city of New York into a coma. Yes, things had certainly changed.
Things had changed so much, in fact, he didn't reach out to the bar for the whiskey standing invitingly on the counter, didn't pick up the remote control and see what pay-per-view was available, nor did he step out onto the balcony to lean against the railing and contemplate what little excitement he could cook up next. None of it held any particular interest for him, not now. Metropolis, for all its fascinating aspects, could go rot for all he cared.
Taking the cell phone from his pocket, David pressed the power button and waited patiently for it to come on. After a much too long opening animation, the screen finally flared to life. He watched the connection bar and waited.
And waited. And waited. And waited.
Frowning, he stood up, holding it high above his head. It continued to flash 'out of service area' at him - a blatant lie, since David knew very well he was within the service area. Opening the door to the balcony, David stood outside, holding the phone out over the edge as far as he could. It refused to connect, which was stupid, since it had connected downstairs when he'd called Owen prior to the charity function.
"We never stop working for you, my ass." David sneered at the phone and contemplated hurling it off the balcony, but with his luck, it would probably smash somebody's head in. The last thing he wanted was to annoy his public relations manager by killing an innocent bystander on the street.
There was nothing for it. The world moved on, as surely and steadily as it ever did, and regardless of his public relations manager's incessant need to send him to far away places to do things he'd rather not do, certain responsibilities came first. Finding his shoes, he slipped them back on, then straightened his tie and tucked in his shirt. He grabbed up his briefcase as he walked over to the elevator. The doors slid open automatically and he stepped inside, waiting as it carried him back down to the lobby. If the cell phone didn't work down there, David already decided he was going to buy out the entire company and shut it down out of spite.
The elevator pinged open again and as the doors slid open, David heard the raucous music from the ballroom assaulting his eardrums once more. Inside the immaculately decorated ballroom lurked some of the nation's most important business people, working the floor and making jerks of themselves trying to dance and boast at the same time. Schmoozing, networking, and kissing up to people had its time and place, but David figured he was rich enough now that the time and place should be of his choosing. Trying to slip unnoticed past the ballroom, David made a beeline for a small sitting area next to the reception desk, hoping at least there he could find a little quiet.
He paused mid-step, a charming smile already plastered on his face automatically as he turned around. Lex Luthor was walking towards him, a girl about half his age, and scarcely dressed, practically dripping off his arm. The urge to ask him what catalogue he ordered her from almost over came his good sense, but he checked it at the last minute.
"Lex," David replied with a polite nod, oozing charm from every pore in his body. It was a habit to put on this sort of façade around, well, just about everyone. Even Fox got a taste of it when they got back together following her release from prison. He'd given up the act around her in recent years, as it was impossible to hold onto that sort of falseness when they'd seen each other at their worst and spent several years arguing over whose turn it was to change messy diapers until they finally just made Owen do it.
"You took off from the party fairly quickly," Lex said, stopping in front of him, a drink in the hand not currently occupied with the 20-something. "I wanted to extend my congratulations on your Samri Award."
"Thank you, Lex," David said with a sincerity he didn't feel in the slightest. "Better luck next year, hm?"
"Oh, I've got other plans in mind." Lex smiled a snake-like smile David was all too familiar with from seeing it in the mirror nearly every day a few years ago.
He knew the man had big plans, world-domination type plans, and David was happy to let him have at it. So long as it didn't put his wife or son in any sort of danger, Lex Luthor could play his games with the Justice League for as long as he liked. Maybe, back in the day, he would have joined him in those little games of cat and mouse, as he once did, but everyone in the underground knew David had more or less retired from such schemes and diabolical plots - more or less.
"Care to join me and a few colleagues for some drinks at the bar?" Lex asked, waving lazily back toward the ballroom. "You've been scarce and people are noticing."
"While I appreciate you looking out for my well-being," David replied, knowing it had nothing what-so-ever to do with that, "I'm afraid I'm running late for a very important conference call. Business goes on, you know, no matter what side of the country I'm on."
"Of course." Lex inclined his head slightly. "Be seeing you, Mr. Xanatos."
"Soon enough, Mr. Luthor." David said, also nodding his head.
He turned, continuing on his journey to the sitting area. That particular section of hotel was, thankfully, quiet and mostly deserted, save for an older woman, sitting calmly off to the side, knitting. She smiled mildly at David and he smiled back, taking a seat a little way away from her, setting his briefcase on his lap. Her eyes kept flicking up to the window that showed the street, no doubt waiting for the airport transport.
Flipping open his phone, David nodded happily as he saw more than enough bars finally lit up to make his call. Holding down the one key, he held the phone up to his ear as it speed-dialed the familiar number. It rang only twice before someone answered.
"Good evening, Owen," David said, glancing down at his watch. "I'm not too late, am I?"
"No, sir." He heard Owen shifting around and getting to his feet.
"Excellent, Owen. Thank you."
"Of course, sir. One moment."
The line went silent as Owen put him on hold. During that time, David fished the hands-free device out of his pocket, hooking it over his ear and plugging it in. When it clicked back to life, David heard the familiar crackling that told him he was on the speaker.
"Everyone here?" he asked as he popped open his briefcase, pushing aside reams of paperwork and confidential documents, pulling out a slim book from near the bottom.
"We're here," came Fox's voice, "and we're ready to get started, right Alex?"
"Yes!" Alex practically yelled the word, his reply nearly swallowed up by giggles. "Hi, Daddy!"
"Hi, kid," David said, opening up the book. "Did you have a good day? Give your mom some trouble?"
"Just kidding, dear."
"Yes, Daddy," Alex said, completely oblivious to his father's jibe. "Owen took me to the zoo! We talked to the animals. They think we look funny. The monkeys said I was naked."
"He wasn't naked at the time, was he Owen?" David asked, his lips quirking into a small smile.
"Good, good. Now then, let me see..." David ran his hand over the smooth cover of the book. "It looks like tonight we're reading a story about the consequences of laziness and shoddy workmanship and the need to hire a reliable contractor when necessary."
"Then I'll huff, and puff, and blooooow your house down!"
The old woman waiting for her shuttle to the airport had long since stopped looking out the window, watching David as he jumped around the sitting area. He'd done all the voices, from the low grumbling of the wolf to the high-pitched squeaking of the pigs. For as silly as David knew he looked, he didn't care. One simply couldn't do the voices unless they got into the act as well. His father had disapproved of that drama class he took in high school, but David always knew it would come in handy some day.
"But as hard as the wolf blew, the house wouldn't come down, and you know why, Alex?"
"Exactly, kiddo." David leaned back against the wall, the book long forgotten as he added his own embellishments. "You see, the third pig didn't cut corners when it came to construction and followed all the rules and filed all the appropriate paperwork regarding building contracts in wolf-prone areas, so he ended up okay in the end."
Alex giggled. "So what happened to the wolf?"
"Oh, the wolf was very, very angry, so he growled and said..." Here, David lowered his voice to its most wolfish. "'Curse you, you sly little pig with your homeowners insurance and huffing and puffing wolf-proof dwelling! I'll get you, yet!' So the wolf went down to the city's public records office and investigated the third little pig and discovered he'd cheated on his taxes the previous year! Oh, the shame! Oh, the scandal! The wolf made an anonymous tip to the IRS and before the little pig knew what hit him, he found himself turned out on his curly little tail. The wolf laughed and laughed and bought up the little pig's property at the city auction for a fraction of its value and had himself a barbecue. So, what's the moral of this story, Alex?"
"Always follow building codes," Alex said happily, "and never cheat the IRS!"
"Perfect! That's my boy!" David clapped his hands, then looked down at his watch. "Now, I think it's time for this little wolf to get himself to sleep."
"Goodnight, Daddy," Alex said. "You're coming home soon, right?"
"I'll be back before you wake up in the morning," David promised. "Give your mother a big kiss on the cheek for me, will you, Alex?"
David heard an exaggerated smacking sound and his wife's laugher as she said her own goodnights. The phone clicked off of speaker and he heard the door to Alex's room open and close, footsteps echoing off the stone floors as Fox walked down the hall. She was chuckling softly.
"Building codes and lessons about the IRS?" she asked, sound very, very amused. "Funny, David, I don't remember the story of The Three Little Pigs quite like that."
"If the kid's going to hear bedtime stories with morals, the morals should at least be applicable to real life," David replied easily, sitting back down in his chair. "How have you been? Things at the castle going okay? Any major catastrophes or unwelcome company I should know about?"
"Things are quiet, for a change," Fox replied and he heard her moving the phone to the other ear. "Broadway had a cooking mishap in the kitchen earlier, but the burning smell is hardly noticeable anymore."
"Good." David's thoughts rested warmly on home. "I've changed my plans. My jet will be brining me back in a couple hours, so I should be home not long after sunrise."
"And dead tired as a result," Fox said, a touch of admonishment in her voice. "Why not just stay the night and fly back in the morning like you planned?"
"I already promised the kid I'd be back before he woke up," David said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "You know what an early riser he is. I want a chance to eat breakfast with you two before I have to go to that board meeting. I can sleep on the plane."
"What am I going to do with you?"
"I can think of a few things, but it's probably best I not elaborate on them at the moment," David told her.
Fox snorted. "You are tired. Go pack and get some sleep. I'll see you when you get home. Goodnight."
"Goodnight, dear." David ended the phone call and slipped the hands free device off his ear, sitting back in his chair and rubbing his eyes.
"Guess the rumors are true."
David looked up and saw Lois Lane sauntering over to him, looking fresh as a daisy and not at all like she'd just spent the better part of eight hours harassing high-profile business men and women for hard-hitting news. The press, sometimes an ally, usually an emery, wasn't anything David couldn't handle, Lois Lane included. Since she usually reserved her efforts for making Lex Luthor, one of his top competitors, look bad, David didn't hold any particular ill will towards her.
"And what rumors would those be, Ms. Lane?" David asked, rising to his feet and slipping his hand in his pocket, looking at her casually.
"That the great David Xanatos, as a result of his journey into fatherhood, has lost his competitive edge, the viciousness that defines people of your stature." She leaned down and picked up the abandoned book, flipping through it with false interest. "No other person at this party tonight would pass it up just to read their kid 'The Three Little Pigs'."
"That's their loss," David said, shrugging her off and taking the book back. "I happen to consider my son a good investment for the future and I intended to take advantage of every opportunity to mold him into the sort of person that will make a powerful difference in this world. Besides, checked the stock quotes lately, Ms. Lane? I'd say I'm far from losing my competitive edge."
"Maybe," Lois replied, meeting his look easily, "but stock quotes don't tell the whole story. Have any comments on CADMUS or have you been too busy going to play groups to pay attention?"
"Didn't your father ever tell you bedtime stories?" David asked and when Lois looked surprised, that gave him answer quick enough. "That's a shame, Ms. Lane, but if I were you, I wouldn't let your own personal problems ruin your objectivity."
Lois sniffed, turning her head away. "How the mighty have fallen."
"Fallen?" David repeated, smiling. "Ms. Lane, I've never been higher."
She frowned at him, but spun on her very high heels and walked away. David watched her retreating back with satisfaction. Let her go off and harass other people, he thought, going to get his briefcase. Maybe David wasn't interesting enough to be her top story anymore, but he couldn't see the problem with that.
"I think it's sweet."
David looked up in surprise, seeing the old woman looking at him. He'd almost forgotten she was there. She'd set her knitting needles across her lap, giving David a warm smile.
"A wise individual once reminded me that one should never regard love as a weakness," David said, picking up his briefcase and slipping the book inside. "At the time, I didn't appreciate it, but now I see how right he was - it's not a weakness, but a strength and an asset."
"And those without love in their life rarely see it," the woman agreed. "You know, I had reservations about your company at first, but given what I've seen tonight, I think I may ask my son to help me invest. It seems like you have a greater reason other than collecting material things to make sure you are successful. That's something I think it's safe to buy into."
"Thank you, ma'am," David said, straightening up and letting his briefcase hang against his leg. "I've noticed you're waiting for the shuttle to the airport. I'm heading there myself in a few minutes. Would you like a ride?"
"Thank you, young man," she said, nodding. "I would like that very much."
"Not a problem. Just let me get my things and call my car around. They didn't give me the Samri Award for nothing."
Swinging his briefcase over his shoulder, David walked back over to the elevators. While he waited for his private ride to appear, he glanced through the door to the ballroom. Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne were hanging around the bar, cheap woman giggling around them. High-powered business men and women made good with the press even as they made they discussed in hushed voices plans and schemes just skirting the line of illegality. A few people he recognized waved at him and called to him to come in and join the party, but David just shook his head politely at their invitations.
"Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin," David mused to himself under his breath, stroking his beard, and he stepped into the elevator as soon as it opened.